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I wrote most of this in February, but couldn’t finish it for some reason, so I didn’t post it at the time. Anyway, here it is, late, but still the actual emotions I was feeling on Eliana’s second birthday.
It has been two years today since Eliana died. It seems crazy to say that-crazy that it ever happened, crazy that it has gone by so fast, and crazy that I survived it. There were many times I would have eagerly chosen to actually go crazy. I told someone early on that I desperately wished I could just lose my mind, and be locked up somewhere, and to not have to think about what had happened or feel the pain of it. Apparently one cannot choose to be insane, though, as my brain and heart stayed firmly planted in excruciating reality.
So now, two years later, I suppose I’m happy that I stayed sane. I made it through. I am still making it through. Most days are pretty easy. Today was a little rougher than most. I thought I was doing so well. I thought about her frequently throughout the day, but stayed pretty calm. Then tonight I just lost it. That’s fine, I’ve been overdue for a good cry and a trip through Eliana’s memorial. I think it’s cleansing in a way. Embracing the pain when it’s unavoidable seems to make it slip away easier afterward.
In that vein, I’ve been thinking about those last days with her, the last hours, the last minutes-the pain of what was. I’ve also been thinking about how she would have been two right now, about the same age as Rebeckah was at that time, and that she might have been looking forward to another sibling being born any day now-all the pain of what wasn’t. And I’ve been thinking of those things that I’ve forgotten, or are fuzzy by now. I can’t remember any of the words the doctor said when he came to tell me she wasn’t going to make it. I can’t remember if I was standing up or sitting down. I can’t remember what I ate the night she died. I can’t remember who was with me when she had her CT scan done. I don’t suppose any of that really matters, but it bothers me just the same. How much more will I forget?
I do remember, though, the feel of her snuggled up next to me when she nursed. I remember the feel of her tiny hand in mine. I remember how silky soft her hair felt on my cheek. I hope the really important stuff stays with me forever. I find that the picture images in my head are extremely unclear, but the physical feelings are embedded deeply. I’m grateful that I can close my eyes and instantly bring up the feeling of her sleeping next to me.
Grieving is a rather crazy business even when you’re not crazy. I write letters to someone who’s not here. I put my deepest feelings out there for total strangers to scrutinize, in the hope that it will help someone. I pour out huge amounts of words, all because of someone who never spoke a single one. I see butterflies that other people don’t. Sometimes it seems like the craziest thing of all though, was that I was able to keep going, even when I wanted to curl up and die too.
When a child dies, there is so, so much that doesn’t make sense. The one thing that does, and the one thing that will last, even beyond the pain, is love. There is so much of it! It threatens to burst out of my chest when I think of her. I hear it pouring out in the letters from other parents living without their precious babies. It plasters the virtual walls of the grief forums. It comes choking out of the mouths at the support groups. It echos down the hallways of the hospitals. When you’re new to the grief, all you feel is the pain, but with a little distance, a little perspective, you can begin to see that it is all love. If we didn’t love so much, we wouldn’t grieve so hard, or so long. If that seems crazy to those who have never been through it, so be it. I’d rather be called crazy (or just plain wrong) than to give up any of the love I have for my child, even if that love is disguised as grief in the beginning. How crazy would that be?
Right after Eliana died I was understandably desperate for a baby in my arms. I thought, and cried, and agonized over trying again right away. Some to whom I looked for advice said it would be a huge mistake, that I needed time to heal first. Others, mainly moms who did have another child soon after losing one, said it could be incredibly healing to have another baby as a comfort for the loss. I put it off, and procrastinated, and deliberated so long that I made a decision by default.
I also realized that I would not be able to handle the knowledge that a new baby would only be there because Eliana was not. My hat is off to all the women who handle it beautifully. I just knew that I wouldn’t. In the end, I decided to wait until at least the same amount of time had passed as there was between the other kids. That meant that according to my timeline, I was free to try around August.
Now, five months later, I am still paralyzed in fear over the very idea of it. I want a baby, of course. What I don’t want is the nine months of terror over the possibility of losing it. Knowing that one minute, day, or month of time could mean the difference between a healthy child and one that will die and destroy me with grief leaves me frozen, unable to move forward, and trapped by indecision. What if we pick the wrong moment? So again, I keep putting it off, and sit here wondering how long I can keep this up.
I’m not ancient, but I’m not getting any younger either. I know the chances of birth defects go up the longer I wait, and the chances of conceiving go down. It’s going on two years now since she came and went. Is it possible that another two years could come and go just as quickly and just as babyless because I’m too scared to take the chance?
I don’t know how to do this. I didn’t know how to make it through my grief. I don’t know how to make it through my fear. I don’t know how to make it through a pregnancy without going crazy. And I hate, hate, hate that the only way is to just do it. Here’s me having a conversation with Nike: Them-“Just do it.” Me-“I can’t. I haven’t planned it out yet, and I can’t predict the outcome. I’d rather not do it, thanks.”
I of all people realize that grief and healing are a lifelong journey, not a destination or a goal. I’m not going to wake up one morning and be “okay” or “ready.” But it sure would be nice to feel a little bit more ready than I do right now. How long would I have to wait though? I’ve already been waiting a long time. Would that feeling of readiness ever actually materialize?
I am scared. I’m just so very scared because I know what it’s like to lose my child. Part of me says to just trust God.
But that’s what I did the last time.
The morning of the surgery I stood in the hallway holding Eliana, bouncing her, rocking her, trying to give her a binky. She was so upset because she hadn’t been able to nurse since 1AM. (No food or drink before surgery) She was crying and I was crying and there was no comfort for either one of us. When it was time I had to put her down in the crib. The doctor said “Everything will be fine.” and I wanted to scream at them all that it wouldn’t be. I wanted to yank her back from them, to not let them touch her. But I didn’t. I let them wheel her away. The last faces she saw were strangers’, and the last hands she felt were doing things I’m probably better off not knowing about. I let her go. I let them take her and she had to just lie there crying, with no one to even hold her hand. My baby’s last conscious memory as they were putting her under was crying in a room on a table all alone without her mommy. Mommy didn’t come.
One year ago, on February 15th, at 3:27 in the afternoon, Eliana Meredith entered our world. She was beautiful, and soft, and perfect, and an utter joy to me. As I sit here now, one year later, I hardly know what to say, or think. It is still so unbelievable to me that it all actually happened, or that it has been this long already. As much as I grieve and agonize over her death, though, I will never regret her birth. Even in my sadness, I will still celebrate her life. If my pain is the price of having been able to love her, no matter how briefly, then I will gladly pay it.
When I was pregnant with her I watched Steel Magnolias-I know, call me crazy. The line that stuck with me, that still sticks with me, is “I’d rather have five minutes of wonderful than a whole lifetime of nothing special.” I would rather have had my two months with Eliana, than to have never known her at all. It hurts that she’s gone. It hurts unimaginably, sometimes unbearably, but she was worth it. And now, one year later, sitting here without her and crying even while I write this, I can say that February 15th is a good day, a happy day. It was the day I met my precious Eliana, and that will always be something to celebrate.
Happy birthday, little one. I love you always. -Mommy
I’m moving. Soon and far. The wanderlust side of myself is reveling in the change and the new adventure of it all. The sentimental side, however, is crying rivers of tears inside my head and heart. All three of our children were born in this house. That fact alone could have kept me content here for the rest of my life. There is a certain old-time appeal to the idea of birthing and raising our children here, and growing old and dying here. It is not going to happen that way now.
Since Eliana only lived two months, there are very few physical ties to this world. One is our house. The other is the hospital. She was born and lived one month at our house. She lived one month and died at the hospital. Now I am leaving both behind. I’m also leaving my friend’s mom’s house, where Eliana made one of just two social outings. My other friend’s apartment is here, the place of her second social event. The doctor’s office I took her to is here. The urgent care we went to is here. The funeral home, the last place I ever held her, is here. Every place she ever was, is here, and I’m leaving.
I won’t be able to drive down the street, and pass any of these locations anymore. I won’t be able to go visit the nurses at her hospital and chat for a few minutes with someone who actually knew her. I won’t be able to sit in my recliner, or lay down in bed, and close my eyes and relive the moments when she was right there in that exact spot with me. I suppose to someone who has never lost a child that might seem like a good thing. To anyone who has, though, we know that part of getting through this depends on clinging to whatever memories we have of our children, because that is all we will ever have of them. There will never be any new ones.
I’m also leaving the only people who are witnesses that my child existed. People here saw her. They held her. They came to the house, to the hospital, and to the funeral. To them, she is more than just a picture on a wall. She is a person. I’m moving away from all the people who care about my baby, or about me. I’m leaving the only people who know me and love me enough to support me in all the things I do in Eliana’s memory, the things I need to do to survive this life without her.
Her birthday is going to be the last day I see most of the people I know. How could the day be any sadder? Two months after that I will be in a new place nearly alone on the one year anniversary of her death. The only thing I can think of that is worse than dealing with my child’s death, is trying to deal with it alone. I’m scared of how hard it is going to be.
I will still have her urn, and her pictures, and stuffed animals, and everything else that was hers, and that I’ve collected since she died. It just isn’t the same, though. It feels as though her essence or spirit is here, and I’m leaving. It is somewhat ridiculous, as I do not believe that at all, but that is how it feels. I’m aware that feelings sometimes have little to do with reality, but knowing that does not stop how much it hurts to be leaving this place-leaving it without her.
I’m moving, but a part of me, a part of my heart, will always remain here, in the bedroom of this house where my sweet baby took her first breath, and in that hospital room where she took her last. I may have to move, but I will never move on.
I should be asleep right now. We are supposed to be getting pictures taken in the morning. But as I was putting Elisabeth to bed, she started sobbing, choking out that she misses Eliana. This happens, not frequently, but enough that (sadly) I am used to it. Used to it or not, it breaks my heart all over again each time it happens.
She talked more tonight than usual. She kept asking why Eliana had to die, and said how sad she was that the doctors couldn’t fix her. She cried about not getting to hold her more, and that she didn’t get to come see her more often at the hospital. She was so upset that Eliana was taken so soon after I had her. Her face was lined with pain when she told me she didn’t get to kiss Eliana goodbye at the funeral. To experience my child dying is the worst thing I have ever gone through. Watching my other child try to deal with her death is the second worst thing.
Toward the end of our talk, Elisabeth brought up having our pictures taken tomorrow. I asked her if she would like to take Eliana’s teddy bear with us to be in the picture, since Eliana can’t be here with us. She said she wanted to. It was something I had been thinking about doing all along, but it’s nice that it can be something to comfort Elisabeth too, not just make me feel better.
To be honest, I was having serious issues with the idea of having family pictures taken again. I know, I know, you don’t have to say it. It’s something we need to do. We have to do it for the girls. I’ve heard all the admonitions. Perhaps unless you have lost a child you cannot really understand my strong resistance to having our photos done again.
My baby is not here. Eliana will not be in these pictures. Eliana will never be in any of our family photos again. It seems so wrong sometimes to go on doing the normal everyday things that she cannot be a part of any longer. These thoughts race through my head, round and round without resolution. Motherly guilt and feelings of obligation compete with the gut-level conviction that I don’t want them done again……ever.
I’ve heard more than one person say that they have tried to complete a puzzle, only to discover that there is one piece missing. Do you know what they did with the puzzle? Donated it? Kept it and ignored the missing piece? No. They threw the puzzle away. I think there is something about being human that makes us hate an otherwise beautiful image that has one little missing piece. Just like I, motherly guilt and all, am going to, on one level, hate the otherwise beautiful image that is going to have one piece missing. The face that won’t be there is just as loved, and just as important, as the faces that will be there.
Elisabeth was able to go to sleep after letting her sorrow out. I’m not so lucky. Here I sit, typing away instead of getting my beauty sleep. I may look a little tired in those pictures tomorrow. The smile might be on my lips but not reach my eyes. At least I’ll have a good reason. Before I even see the proofs, I’ll know that there will be something wrong with them. I’ll get some anyway, but I’ll know that behind the image is a family grieving the loss of their daughter, their sister, and their granddaughter. It will be a picture of a family that is incomplete.
And always will be.
Happy New Year. What does that mean to me now? That at some arbitrary division of days I’m supposed to feel like I can just start over fresh? That since I have a new calendar I can forget whatever happened during the time the old one hung on my wall? Much like someone who moves to a new place to outrun their problems, I find that mine have followed me here. I’m still the exact same bereaved mom today in 2009 that I was yesterday in 2008.
I started thinking yesterday about what I was doing at this time last year. I was eight months pregnant, getting big and heavy and uncomfortable. I was torn between being desperate for the baby to come out, and terrified of how I was going to handle three kids once she was here. I was seeing my midwife, and chiropractor, and cleaning obsessively. I checked and double-checked my lists, and made double batches of food to freeze for later. You know, all the normal things an eight months preggo woman does. And the only thought that comes to mind with these mental pictures is “normal.” It was all so normal.
It’s like watching a horror movie. You hear the music start to change, you see the character heading toward danger, and you want to yell at them. You want to warn them about what’s lurking around the corner. You know what’s going to happen, and you want to scream for them to stop and go the other way. But they can’t hear you. The script is written, the scene has been shot, and there is nothing you can do to change the way it’s going to play out. You can only sit on the edge of your chair, biting your nails, waiting for the ax to fall.
The excitement, love, fear, drama, and pain of Eliana’s life and death have been carved into time, unchangeable, unerasable, uncorrectable. She’s a part of history now, instead of a part of our world. Screaming to the unsuspecting, naive woman of last year is utterly pointless. Trying to warn her of the impending disaster won’t change anything. Just like the new calendar on my wall doesn’t change anything.
Every day now is an anniversary of a day last year when I was looking forward to Eliana’s birth, instead of mourning her death. That wonderful time when I actually fretted over something so minor as how to fit two toddlers and a nursing baby on my lap all at once for story time. Before I knew that I should be on my face giving thanks for the gift of having them here in the first place, because they can be taken so suddenly. Oh, to be that clueless woman again.
So it’s a new year, but it’s the same old life. Full of the same sorrows and regrets of the last eight months, and the ugly reality that being wished a happy new year doesn’t mean it will be so. I can hope, but I no longer expect. I don’t really know if that is good or bad, but I do know that it makes me very sad. The woman from one year ago now walks around with an invisible broken heart. The show is over, and it was definitely a tear-jerker.
I was going through some of my old files a couple days ago, and I found this. I do not know who wrote it, so unfortunately I cannot give them credit. I’ll write more of my thoughts at the bottom, so you can read this first.
TO MY CHILD:
Just for this morning, I am going to smile when I
see your face and laugh when I feel like crying.
Just for this morning, I will let you choose what
you want to wear, and smile and say how perfect it is.
Just for this morning, I am going to step over the
laundry, and pick you up and take you to the park to play.
Just for this morning, I will leave the dishes in
the sink, and let you teach me how to put that puzzle
of yours together.
Just for this afternoon, I will unplug the telephone
and keep the computer off, and sit with you in the
backyard and blow bubbles.
Just for this afternoon, I will not yell once,
not even a tiny grumble when you scream and whine
for the ice cream truck, and I will buy you one
if he comes by.
Just for this afternoon, I won't worry about what
you are going to be when you grow up, or second guess
every decision I have made where you are concerned.
Just for this afternoon, I will let you help me bake
cookies, and I won't stand over you trying to fix them.
Just for this afternoon, I will take us to
McDonald's and buy us both a Happy Meal so you
can have both toys.
Just for this evening, I will hold you in my arms
and tell you a story about how you were born and
how much I love you.
Just for this evening, I will let you splash in the
tub and not get angry.
Just for this evening, I will let you stay up late
while we sit on the porch and count all the stars.
Just for this evening, I will snuggle beside you for
hours, and miss my favorite TV shows.
Just for this evening when I run my finger through
your hair as you pray, I will simply be grateful
that God has given me the greatest gift ever given.
I will think about the mothers and fathers who are
searching for their missing children, the mothers
and fathers who are visiting their children's graves
instead of their bedrooms, and mothers and fathers
who are in hospital rooms watching their children
suffer senselessly, and screaming inside that they
can't handle it anymore.
And when I kiss you good night I will hold you a
little tighter, a little longer. It is then, that
I will thank God for you, and ask him for nothing,
except one more day.............
I remember reading this years ago, and it always made me cry. The strange thing is, I didn’t shed a single tear when I read it this time. I don’t have to wonder in terror about how that would feel if it happened to me. It already has. I’ve experienced all the regrets, should haves, what ifs, fears, and pain, and grief. I live with it every day. Reading about it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t gone through it doesn’t seem to affect me now. I guess I’ve wept enough over the actual event that I don’t need to weep over the possibility of it happening. Imagination is much gentler than reality.
Every year we drive North to go play in the snow. Right now I’m recovering from this year’s trip. It’s a long drive, and during part of it I was sitting there just thinking about things. It occurred to me that I felt okay. As a matter of fact, I felt pretty good. My husband and I were getting along. The kids were excited to get there and play. My close friends were with us and sharing the fun. I had snacked for the last hour and my tummy was happy. I just sat there for a few moments in sheer wonder that I could feel this “okay.” And then I had to turn my face to the window because the tears started streaming down.
The crying didn’t last long, but it is a good example of how a bereaved parent can be so happy and so sad at the very same time. I wouldn’t trade my tentative feelings of normal for the utter despair I had in the beginning (and that still hits occasionally), but even the sense of normalcy seems surreal. How can anything be good, or happy, or okay, or normal, when my baby is dead? Even when I’m sitting there thinking about how nice it is to feel good, part of me is saying “I don’t really feel okay, do I? Do I really feel good? How is that possible?” It’s enough to make a person feel crazy.
So how can anything be good again when my baby is dead? I guess the only answer is …..that sometimes it just is. In the beginning I didn’t believe it was possible. Even while feeling it now, it seems strange and unbelievable. But it’s there nonetheless. I didn’t ask for it. For a while I didn’t even want it. It seemed like a betrayal that I might feel happy again without her. Guilt rending as it may be, though, I am grateful for it.
Her death and my grief don’t feel like the heavy chains they once were. Now they feel more like an old injury. There is an ugly scar, a dull ache I don’t notice all the time, and at times it acts up and is incredibly painful and debilitating. But I don’t feel constantly enslaved now. I’m not crippled under the weight, or chained to one spot, unable to move forward. Sometimes, even with my injuries, I can feel good.
I guess I need to give myself just as much permission to be happy as I do to immerse myself in the sorrow. I can agonize over the death of my precious child even while loving and caring for my family, and I can joyfully live my life, thankful for all the blessings in it, even while missing my Eliana terribly. Smiling and crying at the same time isn’t crazy, even if it might look that way to others. It’s just another step of this road of grief. I’ll keep allowing myself to smile, even if it makes me cry, because they are both okay.